Prior to this season, Robert DiDonato '21 had never run cross country before, which made his breakout season so much more unbelievable. DiDonato not only went undefeated in dual meets, but he also went on to take the top spots at the Inter-Ac League Championship and the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association Championship.
At the league championship, DiDonato continued to dominate the trails, finishing first overall with a time of 16:28. Teammate Matt Sandifer '20 was not far behind, finishing third overall with a time of 16:53.
"That was great, mainly because they executed so well," said Head Coach Pete Jennings '99. "Robert has proven himself over the course of the season to be the top of the field and Matt really just needed to get into the right position early. We knew he would hang on and he did a great job."
Then at states, DiDonato won gold with a time of 16:48, which was almost 20 seconds faster than the next racer, Jeffrey Love of George School. Sandifer took sixth with at time of 17:25.
"It was awesome," said DiDonato. "I lost to Jeffrey Love by eight seconds earlier this season at the George School Invitational, but that was only my second race. I knew it would be a good one between us."
Originally a soccer player, DiDonato transitioned into a full-time runner after having a strong freshman campaign on the track team during the spring. A talk with Jennings and Assistant Coach Matthew Notary helped cement the move.
"It was a breakthrough season," DiDonato said. "I trained a lot with the track coaches. Last year I played soccer [during the fall], but the coaches were like, 'Focus on [running] because you have the opportunity to go DI.'"
That is exactly what DiDonato did. He said that he ran a lot in the summer and felt good going into the season. In addition to the work that he has put in on his own, the sophomore is getting some extra help from his coaches.
Jennings said that since DiDonato had previously only ran track in Middle School as a way to stay in shape, he made some mistakes on the track last year, but quickly fixed them. This season, Jennings said that they are trying to help DiDonato work on the efficiency of his stride and also start building in more strength work.
DiDonato said that having their help is "awesome." He added that since both of them ran at a high level in college -- Jennings at Richmond and Notary at Princeton -- he sees it as a "proven mentor situation."
Throughout the season, the sophomore's times have only improved. In the first dual meet of the season -- an Aug. 30 race with Plymouth Whitemarsh High School -- DiDonato ran GA's course in 17:30, almost a full minute faster than PW's top finisher. Almost a month later, DiDonato ran a scorching 16:07, a personal record, at the Paul Short Invitational to finish 13th overall. He also finished second at the George School Invitational with a time of 16:28.
"Robert has a lot of innate talent, but his growth as an athlete last year in terms of training and racing showed that he has no interest in competing on talent alone," Jennings said. "He is willing to learn and has a great appreciation for the sport and his competition.
"We haven't found his ceiling even in training yet," added Jennings. "He ran 16:07 at the Paul Short Invitational, and that was as gassed as I've seen him, but he still managed to kick to the finish line. He handles the physical and mental side of the sport so well, that there really are no limits."
The final race on the schedule for Germantown Academy takes place on GA-PC Day (Nov. 10). That race is scheduled for 10:00 am.